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Taking Our Bodies Back: How to Break Free from the Comparison Trap

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Summer is officially here. For many women, that means bathing-suit anxiety. That means more focus on those “troubling” body parts. That means a last-minute purchase of a gym membership that you won’t use.

This summer, disrupt the ordinary; draw a line in the sand and set your own standards for body image and perfection. What if you looked back on this summer as the year you accepted yourself and your body the way it is right now?

Practice these six principles this summer and take the pledge to free yourself once and for all from the Comparison Trap.

1. Be nice to you. You have heard it before and I am going to say it again now—be nice to you! If you talked to your friends in the negative way you talk to yourself, you wouldn’t have any friends! Many of us begin the day by looking in the mirror and noting what is “wrong” with us—we think, “I look tired,” “my hair needs to be cut,” “I look bloated, I shouldn’t have eaten that last night …” Most of the time, we are not celebrating our beauty and wonder. We could all learn something from the video of a little girl named Jessica who stands on her bathroom counter and loudly and proudly proclaims what she likes into the mirror. For almost a minute, she enthusiastically lists the things she likes: “I like my hair! I like my pajamas! I like my house!” And she ends with “I can do anything good, yeah, yeah!” If you haven’t seen it, it is well worth the watch.

2. Comparison is more dangerous than a dead-end street in a bad neighborhood. Anything you don’t like about yourself is, by definition, in comparison to something else. We only “know” what the perfect lips, breasts, nose, or thighs are because we have a false standard to compare to. According to the National Eating Disorder Association, 80 percent of American women are dissatisfied with their appearance, yet most fashion models are thinner than those women (meaning us). We may never stop comparing, but we can practice awareness of it. Keep track of all the ways, times and places you compare yourself and come up short. The more you bring it to the surface, the less power it has over you.

3. Don’t wait: Now is the time to make peace with that troubling body part (or parts). As we age, gravity will affect us—all of us. Skin will sag and wrinkle and if we are blessed to live a long life, it will continue to do so. Five or ten years from now, you will look back on pictures of yourself and wonder what you complained about. Why not accept yourself right now? And yes, this takes practice. Be willing to do whatever it takes—whether it is simply observing your thoughts; actively changing the negative thought to a positive one, or practicing affirmations. Take it up a notch and pick a body part that you can accept and sing your praises to it. Like the arch of your foot? Write an ode to it. How about appreciating the strength of your legs? Compose a poem. Be silly, have fun, play. Just do what it takes to shift your focus to appreciation. Even the most hypercritical of us can find something to be proud of.

4. Remember—diet is still “die” with a “t.” Instead of going on yet another diet, take the time to educate yourself about healthy eating. Invest in a good nutritionist—do a thorough inventory of your eating and exercise habits. If you find you need professional intervention, take action now! Don’t wait! Help is out there. Visit the National Eating Disorder Association’s Web site for more information.

5. Practice conscious consumption. Want to know why these unrealistic standards of perfection continue? The answer lies with us. Societal pressures do exist, but who makes up the society? We do. Who keeps buying the fashion magazines, watching the TV shows? We do. Who keeps falling for the myth that there is something wrong with us? We do. Peer pressure and negative influences exist, but who needs to be responsible for this? We do. If we still choose to view, buy, or read the media yet continually feel less than, we need to be responsible for that. We are the ones who keep comparing ourselves. The media can only impact us if we let it. We need to develop a critical eye and practice conscious consumption. Then one day, if we all truly love and accept ourselves the way we are, the media will change too.

Take a stand! Get involved, start a movement, make a difference! Don’t tolerate criticism in yourself or others. Say something about it when your friends complain about their bodies. Definitely say something when you hear others make derogatory comments about others’ bodies! We dislike the standards that exist, yet we fall into another trap of keeping those standards in place when we negatively remark on a Hollywood star having (gasp!) cellulite. The next time you see cellulite on a star, celebrate! Write a powerful letter to the media outlet that criticized them. Be an advocate for change.

Let’s draw the line in the sand this summer and make the pledge to break free from the Comparison Trap. We can set our own standards for body image and perfection. We can embrace all of us—our scars, wrinkles, droops, muscle, beauty, and wonder.

Now, I ask you, what are you waiting for?


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